Rhodri Morgan in Texas for launch of scholarship scheme in honour of space legend with Welsh roots

Rhodri Morgan, former First Minister for Wales and now Chancellor of Swansea University, has launched the George Abbey Fund, which will provide scholarships to students from Swansea and its partner institutions in Texas to facilitate student exchange programmes, covering travel and accommodation costs.

The scheme will run as an endowment fund, designed to support students studying in subjects associated with George Abbey – these will include science, engineering and the arts, particularly Celtic Studies.

George Abbey, previously Director of the NASA Johnson Space Centre, is now Senior Fellow in Space Policy at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He was born in Seattle, Washington, but his Welsh-speaking mother mother was from Laugharne, and Mr Abbey has always had a strong interest in Wales and his Welsh heritage. His has strong family ties to Laugharne – a family cousin, Dick Lewis, was the local milkman and a friend of the poet Dylan Thomas when he lived in the town.

Mr Abbey is an Honorary Fellow of Swansea University, where his son James Abbey is International Strategic Collaboration Adviser.

The scholarship scheme was launched at a dinner at the Houston home of the HM UK Consul General for Texas, Andrew Millar.

Rhodri and George Abbey

Rhodri Morgan said: “George Abbey’s links to Wales and his continued affection for Laugharne, his mother’s birthplace, are well known. He once arranged for the works of Dylan Thomas to be taken into space, and used to ask astronauts to take photographs of Wales from space! This scheme will allow his legacy to be honoured by Swansea University and I’m delighted to be able to launch it in Houston, the home of the NASA Space Centre.”

Professor Richard B. Davies, Vice-Chancellor of Swansea University, said: “We aim to deliver an outstanding experience at Swansea. We also recognise that enhancing our graduates’ employability is more important than ever, and one of the ways of doing this is by providing opportunities for our students to study or work abroad. This new scheme will give opportunities to more students, and is another important part of our collaboration with top-ranking universities in Texas.”

  • George Abbey served in the US Air Force before he joined NASA in 1964 where he was assigned to the Apollo programme. In 1976 he became director of flight operations where his responsibilities included the management of flight and crew in spaceflight missions.
  • In the eighties he became director of the Flight Crew Operations Directorate and selected the crews that flew during the early years of the Space Shuttle programme, also putting the first women in space. In 1996, Abbey was made Director of the NASA Johnson Space Centre where he was part of the NASA Shuttle-MIR Programme, and a central figure in the development of the international space station.
  • After he was made director of NASA's research hub, the Johnson Space Centre, in Houston, Texas, he arranged for a photograph of the Dylan Thomas to be taken from a museum in Laugharne into space on board the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1998 - exactly 15 years ago.
  • He later returned it to the town to go on public display at The Boathouse - Thomas' former home and now a museum - along with a dedication giving details of its space journey.